For as long as Beth could remember, she'd been told that she'd someday be wedded.
Her horse-drawn carriage careened down the loosely built dirt road at full speed, Button and Flame panting as Otis steered them further to Beth's uncertain future. From being stuffed into the cramped cab of the carriage with her father and mother, to getting sick with every rough patch that bounced them around nauseatingly, and for every trot of hooves that took her further from home, Beth was no very impressed with this future.
Beth wished she didn't have to be here. She wished to be home and riding Nelly or sitting by her favorite pond under her favorite tree and reading a book. Goodness, even one of Patricia's horrid lessons on proper female etiquette would be more tolerable than the lurching in her stomach and the dread in her heart.
Why did she have to be married? Not that she was apposed to marriage. She'd once thought she'd like to be married... But why did she have to be married to someone she'd never even met? She'd always hoped – prayed, even – that she would one day get to marry for love like her mother and father had gotten to. Her father had gotten to twice, for heaven sake!
Of course she knew this was coming. It had happened to Maggie and Shawn, so why should she think she'd be excused? Her siblings had a bit of luck on their side, though. Maggie's husband, Glenn, was a foreign gentleman of wealth who lived close enough that she could still pay the monthly visit. And Shawn lived in his own small estate behind their own with his wife Amy as he was continuously groomed to take over their father's land someday.
Beth didn't feel so lucky. Her future husband was a man who's family came into their title and money through fighting! Patricia had explained that her future family – the Dixon family – was full of men and women who were strong and brave and had struck wealth over the years through trade, gold mining, oil, and even hard laboring. All the men had fought in some kind of war or battle and the wives were all decorated as supportive, strong, and brave as they too fought close or raised sons and daughters to be ready for a fight, to survive.
While that was most impressive, it seemed rather Spartan like! And Beth by no means considered herself to be a Spartan woman or one to approve of such things as violence and gore. The idea of having to become some gun wielding warrior woman or club swinging female sounded terrifying and, frankly, barbaric. Beth had no desire to be such a woman. She preferred books and playing the piano and enjoying mother earth, not wallowing in it like an animal!
“Elizabeth, you're muttering again.” Annette spoke up, causing Beth to look away from the window and flush at the look her father was giving her and the smile on her mother's face.
“Sorry!” Beth exclaimed, then winced at how loud she sounded in the cramped space of the cab. She really wasn't a fan of riding for hours in the carriage unless it was to town to get supplies or a new book. And on a road that wasn't so bumpy.
“You needn't be so worried, dear.” her mother said softly, reaching out to brush a loose strand of Beth's hair from her face before reaching down to straighten out Beth's dress, fluffing the skirt and then retie the waist sash, fingers brushing Beth's stomach and giving her a look which made Beth flush and look away.
“I took it off after Patricia left.” Beth answered honestly before her mother could ask, making Annette sigh and shake her head with affection and disbelief at her child while Hershel stared out the window, puffing on his awful smelling pipe, a hidden smile curving at his wife and child.
“You should wear it, Beth. A corset is what a proper woman wears. And stockings.. Though I assume you're not wearing them either?” she sighed, making Beth duck her head slightly because no, she wasn't wearing her stockings either because they made her get too hot in the Georgia summer and they weren't always comfortable and made her shoes pinch her feet.
“What if he doesn't like me?” Beth tried instead, changing the subject as she bit her lip and looked between her parents, voicing one of her many concerns. “What if he's horrible and beats me or wants me to move to some unknown land? What if-” Beth tried, only to be cut off by her father.
“He won't, Bethy. Have faith in your father, hmm? I wouldn't give your hand to anyone, would I?” he asked, and Beth felt a little guilt as she first thought that maybe he would. But then she knew better. Her father wasn't a greedy man. He was stubborn and sometimes a bit emotional, but not a greedy or bad man. He would pick someone who could care for her. Just as he did for Maggie. And just as he made sure Shawn's new wife wasn't just using Shawn for money or land. He was a good man.
The weight on Beth's shoulders lifted slightly as she nodded and saw her father give a twinkling smile, one that matched her mothers, before they locked hands and peered out the window together as the horses slowed to a trot and the carriage pulled up to a long, sweeping drive of a very large and very looming mansion. One that Beth was certain she could fit her whole home in and still have room.
“It's lovely.” her mother breathed, and Beth could only silently agree while also feeling very much intimidated by how large it was... At least the flowers were lovely and well kept. And the ivory growing up the side gave it a sort of character that was suitable.
“You're a little late, arn't ya?” a gruff voice spoke up as Jimmy, Otis's son and her oldest friend, held a hand out and helped her down from the carriage after her father helped her mother. Jimmy gave her an encouraging smile and wink before heading around back to help his father with the bags.
“The trip is longer than I remember, Alabaster. I'm not as young as I used to be, you know?” her father replied back as Beth took a moment to take in a man who was likely around her father's age and sporting a head of pure silver hair that had probably once been black, an age and sun weathered face, and sharp blue eyes that reminded Beth of the sky before a storm; blue with a little gray.
Alabaster Dixon wasn't anything like the old military photos Beth had seen of him. And yet looking at him, she could imagine the younger him standing before them at the top of the stairs, no longer needing to lean on his cane or stand with a slight hunch. He'd been a handsome man and a small vain part of Beth could at least think that maybe that meant her husband would be handsome when he aged... If he was handsome now.
“My men will show your people to their room and get your things settled. Come along. My grandson is out on a hunt. He should be back shortly.” Alabaster said in his gravelly voice as Beth and her parents were waved inside, Beth frowning slightly. Had her future husband not been aware of their arrival today or had he simply not cared? Beth wasn't sure she liked that thought...
Stepping into the mansion, Beth felt her breath catch slightly. She lived in a modest home with her parents and had always loved how simple it was... Standing in the Dixon Mansion was a whole new experience. It was simple, warm and rustic in ways and yet modern and classical in others. It was a home that Beth could tell had been built proudly with every brick, wood carved with attention, and paintings picked for purpose.
Beth tried to take the home in as she was led to a large study which also lead into an office set off to the side. The room was well lit with all the window blinds open and Beth was in awe over the sight of so many books along the eastern wall. Her hand brushed along the spines as she drank in the sight greedily.
“Is this a new portrait? It's a striking resemblance, Alabaster.” her mother spoke up, drawing Beth away from the shelf to stand beside her mother, following her eyes as she stared above the unlit fireplace.
The man in the portrait was not Alabaster, as she had expected. Instead it was a man dressed in that of a Colonel's attire that made his broad shoulders look more defined. His hair was dark hair and in need of a trim, brushing against his shoulder and along his brow to slightly cover his eyes. Even wearing long sleeves, Beth noted he had the arms of a worker like her father; strong and pressing against the material.
What Beth found most unsettling about the picture was the glare. Through the bits of hair hanging in his eyesight, his brow was turned down and his lip in a sort of scowl while his eyes, though a lovely shade of blue, seemed hooded with anger that made a shiver run up her spine. The portrait did not settle the wary nerves she already had for this man she'd never met.
“He's very handsome, isn't he Bethy?” her mother whispered near her ear. All Beth could do was feign a smile of agreement at her mothers attempt at encouraging her to settle her fears. It was doing no good.
A knock on the door of the study alerted everyone to a servent, who walked up to Lord Dixon and whispered in his ear. Alabaster nodded before waving the servant on and looking to her mother and father, leaning on his cane as he leaned to them.
“Perhaps it's best we discuss the future now, Hershel? Let the young ones have a chance to meet, mm?” he suggested. And though he had not meant it so, Beth found the comment to sound almost perverse when worded that way, which had her cheeks flaming and her gaze snapping back up to the portrait.
“We'll be just in the doorway, Elizabeth. Behave.” her mother murmured as she was lead into the office with her father, the door shutting and leaving Beth standing alone in a strange home's study... And without a chaperon as well. Which was very scandalous, really...
Sighing, Beth glanced up at the portrait and tried not to stick her tongue out at it in childish dislike. Whoever her husband was to be – she didn't even know his name besides he was a Dixon – he looked an angry and looming man from this point of view. A view that Beth did not like or want any part of.
Feeling sick while looking at the portrait, Beth quickly looked away, needing to find a distraction for the painful twisting in her stomach that felt as if it were being pumped full of angry bees! Painful and nauseating and very uncomfortable.
Her eyes scanned the room and she contemplated taking a book and having a seat, when her eyes landed on the far corner of the room, where a small but beautiful piano had been placed. Her eyes widened at the sight and her fingers twitch as she approached it, looking it over gently and noting that it was a similar model to the one she had learned on at a young age.
Sliding onto the plush seat, Beth gently lifted the key cover and folded it back, brushing delicately over the keys and smiling as she hit a note and it resonated beautifully from the instrument, notifying her that it was indeed properly tuned.
Craving the need for a distraction and to give into the twitching call of her fingers, Beth began to play, letting her fingers lead her through a song she knew well, humming gently along and feeling herself relax as she glided over the keys, her smile growing with every note. The familiar sensation making her feel as if she was back home and playing for her family like she used to as a young girl.
Engrossed in the soothing call of music, Beth had not heard the study door open. Nor did she note that she was being watched. Not right away, at least. It was some time before she felt the shift of the room that alerted to a new presence.
Stopping abruptly, Beth flushed as she jerked her head to the left and stood up, wincing as she knocked her knee into the piano and made it clang slightly. Her face burning with embarrassment as she stared at the stranger before her.
Or rather, she stared at him and his portrait. Her eyes widened in surprise as she took in the man before her – plain white shirt tucked into his dark brown pants that were tucked into boots, a hat on his head and pressing his long dark hair over his eyes more – and the portrait of the man as well... And was thrown by what she was seeing.
“Oh.” she said softly, blinking at him as he stared back at her with his head cocked to the side and his startling blue eyes watching her with curiousness and uncertainty that she knew matched the very look in her eyes as well.
She could hear her father and Lord Alabaster talking in the office as she stepped away from the piano to step closer and give a proper bow of greeting, her eyes never leaving his as he gave a stiff bow in return, standing at an arms length. The room seemed to spin slightly and center on them as Beth allowed herself to give a timid smile.
The man did not return the smile. Instead he seemed to study her for a long moment, taking her in as she herself was taking him in. In this moment, words weren't needed. She could see, even with his seemingly guarded expression, that he was just as lost and curious of her as she was of him... And that simple thought allowed her to grant him a smile, which he straightened up at the sight of.
“It's a pleasure to meet you, Lord Dixon.” Beth whispered with a growing smile. “Your portrait... Doesn't do you justice.”